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Philistia (Chapter27)

2006-08-28 23:27

  Chapter XXVII. Ronald Comes of Age.

  'Strange,' Ronald Le Breton thought to himself, as he walked along the Embankment between Westminster and Waterloo, some weeks later——the day of Herr Max's trial,——'I had a sort of impulse to come down here alone this afternoon: I felt as if there was an unseen Hand somehow impelling me. Depend upon it, one doesn't have instincts of that sort utterly for nothing. The Finger that guides us guides us always aright for its own wise and unfathomable purposes. What a blessing and a comfort it is to feel that one's steps are continually directed from above, and that even an afternoon stroll through the great dreary town is appointed to us for some fit and sufficient reason! Look at that poor girl over there now, at the edge of the Embankment! I wonder what on earth she can have come here for. Why……how pale and excited she looks. What's she going so near the edge for? Gracious heavens! it can't be……yes……it is…… no, no, but still it must be……that's what the Finger was guiding me here for this afternoon. There's no denying it. The poor creature's tempted to destroy herself. My instinct tells me so at once, and it never tells me wrong. Oh, Inscrutable Wisdom, help me, help me: give me light to act rightly! I must go up this very moment and speak to her!'

  The girl was walking moodily along the edge of the bank, and looking in a dreamy fashion over the parapet into the sullen fast-flowing brown water below. An eye less keen than Ronald's might have seen in a moment, from her harassed weary face and her quick glance to right and left after the disappearing policeman, that she was turning over in her own mind something more desperate than any common everyday venture. Ronald stepped up to her hastily, and, firm in his conviction that the Finger was guiding him aright, spoke out at once with boldness on the mere strength of his rapid instinctive conjecture.

  'Stop, stop,' he said, laying his hand gently on her shoulder: 'not for a moment, I beg of you, not for a moment. Not till you've at least told me what is your trouble.'

  Selah turned round sharply and looked up in his face with a vague feeling of indefinable wonder. 'What do you mean?' she asked, in a husky voice. 'Don't do what? How do you know I was going to do anything?'

  'You were going to throw yourself into the river,'Ronald answered confidently; 'or at least you were debating about it in your own soul. I know you were, because a sure Guide tells me so.'

  Selah's lip curled a little at the sound of that familiar language. 'And suppose I was,' she replied, defiantly, in her reckless fashion; 'suppose I was: what's that to you or anybody, I should like to know? Are you your brother's keeper, as your own Bible puts it? Well, yes, then, perhaps I was going to drown myself: and if I choose, as soon as your back's turned, I shall go and do it still; so there; and that's all I have to say about it.'

  Ronald turned his face towards her with an expression of the intensest interest, but before he could put in a single word, Selah interrupted him.

  'I know what you're going to say,' she went on, looking up at him rebelliously. 'I know what you're going to say every bit as well as if you'd said it. You're one of these city missionary sort of people, you are; and you're going to tell me it's awfully wicked of me to try and destroy myself, and ain't I afraid of a terrible hereafter! Ugh! I hate and detest all that mummery.'

  Ronald looked down upon her in return with a sort of silent wondering pity. 'Awfully wicked,' he said slowly, 'awfully wicked! How meaningless! How incomprehensible! Awfully wicked to be friendless, or poor, or wretched, or unhappy! Awfully wicked to be driven by despair, or by heartlessness, to such a pitch of misery or frenzy that you want to fling yourself wildly into the river, only to be out of it all, anywhere, in a minute! Why you poor, unhappy girl, how on earth can you possibly help it?'

  There was something in the tone of his earnest voice that melted for a moment even Selah Briggs's pride and vehemence. It was very impertinent of him to try and interfere with her purely personal business, no doubt, but he seemed to do so in a genuinely kindly rather than in a fussy interfering spirit. At any rate he didn't begin by talking to her that horrid cant about the attempt to commit suicide being so extremely wicked! If he had done that, Selah would have felt it was not only an unwarrantable intrusion upon her liberty of action, but a grotesque insult to her natural intelligence as well.

  'I've a right to drown myself if I choose,' she faltered out, leaning faintly as she spoke against the parapet, 'and nobody else has any possible right to hinder or prevent me. If you people make laws against my rights in that matter, I shall set your laws aside whenever and wherever it happens to suit my personal convenience.'

  'Exactly so,' Ronald answered, in the same tone of gentle and acquiescent persuasion. 'I quite agree with you. It's as clear as daylight that every individual human being has a perfect right to put an end to his own life whenever it becomes irksome or unpleasant to him; and nobody else has any right whatever to interfere with him. The prohibitions that law puts upon our freedom in that respect are only of a piece with the other absurd restrictions of our existing unchristian legislation——as opposed to the spirit of the Word as the old rule that made us bury a suicide at four cross roads with a hideously barbarous and brutal ceremonial. They're all mere temporary survivals from a primitive paganism: the truth shall make us free. But though we mayn't rightly interfere, we may surely inquire in a brotherly spirit of interest, whether it isn't possible for us to make life less irksome for those who, unhappily, want to get rid of it. After all, the causes of our discontent are often quite removable. Tell me, at least, what yours are, and let me see whether I'm able to do anything towards removing them.'

  Selah hung back a little sullenly. This was a wonderful mixture of tongues that the strange young man was talking in! When he spoke about the right and wrong of suicide, ethically considered, it might have been Herbert Walters himself who was addressing her: when he glided off sideways to the truth and the Word, it might have been her Primitive Methodist friends at Hastings, in full meeting assembled. And, by the way, he reminded her strangely, somehow, of Herbert Walters! What manner of man could he be, she wondered, and what strange sort of new Gospel was this that he was preaching to her?

  'How do I know who you are?' she asked him, carelessly. 'How do I know what you want to know my story for? Perhaps you're only trying to get something out of me.'

  'Trust me,' Ronald said simply. 'By faith we live, you know. Only trust me.'

  Selah answered nothing.

  'Come over here to the bench by the garden,' Ronald went on earnestly. 'We can talk there more at our leisure. I don't like to see you leaning so close to the parapet. It's a temptation; I know it's a temptation.'

  Seiah looked at him again inquiringly. She had never before met anybody so curious, she fancied. 'Aren't you afraid of being seen sitting with me like this,' she said, 'on the Embankment benches? Some of your fine friends might come by and wonder who on earth you had got here with you.' And, indeed, Selah's dress had grown vory shabby and poor-looking during a long and often fruitless search for casual work or employment in London.

  But Ronald only surveyed her gently from head to foot with a quiet smile, and answered softly, 'Oh, no; there's no reason on earth why we shouldn't sit down and talk together; and even if there were, my friends all know me far too well by this time to be surprised at anything I may do, when the Hand guides me. If you will only sit down and tell me your story, I should like to see whether I could possibly do anything to help you.'

  Selah let him lead her in his gentle half-womanly fashion to the bench, and sat down beside him mechanically. Still, she made no attempt to begin her pitiful story. Ronald suspected for a second some special cause for her embarrassment, and ventured to suggest a possible way out of it. 'Perhaps,' he said timidly, 'you would rather speak to some older and more fatherly man about it, or to some kind lady. If so, I have many good friends in London who would listen to you with as much interest and attention as I should.'

  The old spirit flared up in Selah for a second, as she answered quickly, 'No, no, sir, it's nothing of that sort. I can tell you as well as I can tell anybody. If I've been unfortunate, it's been through no fault of my own, thank goodness, but only through the hard-heartedness and unkindness of other people. I'd rather speak to you than to anyone else, because I feel somehow——why, I don't know——as if you had something or other really good in you.'

  'I beg your pardon,' Ronald said hastily, 'for even suggesting it but you see, I often have to meet a great many people who've been unhappy through a great many different causes, and that leads one occasionally for a time into mistaken inferences. Let me hear all your history, please, and I firmly believe, through the aid that never forsakes us, I shall be able to do something or other to help you in your difficulties.'

  Thus adjured, Selah began and told her whole unhappy history through, without pause or break, into Ronald's quietly sympathetic ear. She told him quite frankly and fully how she had picked up the acquaintance of a young Mr. Walters from Oxford at Hastings: how this Mr. Walters had led her to believe he would marry her: how she had left her home hurriedly, under the belief that he would be induced to keep his promise: how he had thrown her over to her own devices: and how she had ever since been trying to pick up a precarious livelihood for herself in stray ways as a sempstress, work for which she wag naturally very ill-fitted, and for which she had no introductions. She slurred over nothing on either side of the story; and especially she did not forget to describe the full measure of her troubles and trials from her Methodist friends at Hastings. Ronald shook his head sympathetically at this stage of the story. 'Ah, I know, I know,' he muttered, half under his breath; 'nasty pious people! Very well meaning, very devout, very earnest, one may be sure of it——but oh! what terrible soul-killing people to live among! I can understand all about it, for I've met them often——Sabbath-keeping folks; preaching and praying folks; worrying, bothering, fussy-religious folks: formalists, Pharisees, mint-anise and-cummin Christians: awfully anxious about your soul, and so forth, and doing their very best to make you as miserable all the time as a slave at the torture! I don't wonder you ran away from them.'

  'And I wasn't really going to drown myself, you know, when you spoke to me.' Selah said, quite apologetically. 'I was only just looking over into the beautiful brown water, and thinking how delicious it would be to fling oneself in there, and be carried off down to the sea, and rolled about for ever into pebbles on the shingle, and there would be an end of one altogether——oh, how lovely!'

  'Very natural,' Ronald answered calmly. 'Very natural. Of course it would. I've often thought the same thing myself. Still, one oughtn't, if possible, to give way to these impulses: one ought to do all that's in one's power to prevent such a miserable termination to one's divinely allotted existence. After all, it is His will, you see, that we should be happy.'

  When Selah had quite finished all her story, Ronald began drawing circles in the road with the end of his stick, and perpending within himself what had better be done about it, now that all was told him. 'No work,' he said, half to himself; 'no money; no food. Why, why, I suppose you must be hungry.'

  Selah nodded assent.

  'Will you allow me to offer you a little lunch?' he asked, hesitatingly, with something of Herbert's stately politeness. Even in this last extremity, Ronald felt instinctively what was due to Selah Briggs's natural sentiments of pride and delicacy. He must speak to her deferentially as if she were a lady, not give her alms as if she were a beggar.

  Then for the first time that day Selah burst suddenly into tears. 'Oh, sir,' she said, sobbing, 'you are very kind to me.'

  Ronald waited a moment or two till her eyes were dry, and then took her across the gardens and into Gatti's. Any other man might have chosen some other place of entertainment under the circumstances, but Ronald, in his perfect simplicity of heart, looked only for the first shop where he could get Selah the food she needed. He ordered something hot hastily, and, when it came, though he had had his own lunch already, he played a little with a knife and fork himself for show's sake, in order not to seem as if he were merely looking on while Selah was eating. These little touches of feeling were not lost upon Selah: she noticed them at once, and recognised in what Ernest would have called her aboriginal unregenerate vocabulary that she was dealing with a true gentleman.

  'Walters,' Ronald said, pausing a second with a bit of chop poised lightly on the end of his fork; 'let me see——Walters. I don't know any man of that name, myself, but I've had two brothers at Oxford, and perhaps one of them could tell me who he is. Walters——Walters. You said your own name was Miss Briggs, I think, didn't you? My name's Ronald Le Breton.'

  'How curious,' Selah said, colouring up. 'I'm sure I remember Mr. Walters talking more than once to me about his brother Ronald.'

  'Indeed,' Ronald answered, without even a passing tinge of suspicion. That any man should give a false name to other people with intent to deceive was a thing that would never have entered into his simple head——far less that his own brother Herbert should be guilty of such a piece of disgraceful meanness.

  'I think,' Ronald went on, as soon as Selah had finished her lunch, 'you'd better come with me back to my mother's house for the present. I suppose, now you've talked it over a little, you won't think of throwing yourself into the river any more for to-day. You'll postpone your intention for the present, won't you? Adjourn it sine die till we can see what can be done for you.'

  Selah smiled faintly. Even with the slight fresh spring of hope that this chance rencontre had roused anew within her, it seemed rather absurd and childish of her to have meditated suicide only an hour ago. Besides, she had eaten and drunk since then, and the profoundest philosophers have always frankly admitted that the pessimistic side of human nature is greatly mitigated after a good dinner.

  Ronald called a hansom, and drove up rapidly to Epsilon Terrace. When he got there, he took Selah into the little back breakfast room, regardless of the proprieties, and began once more to consider the prospects of the future.

  'Is Lady Le Breton in?' he asked the servant: and Selah noticed with surprise and wonder that this strange young man's mother was actually 'a lady of title,' as she called it to herself in her curious ordinary language.

  'No, sir,' the girl answered; 'she have been gone out about an hour.'

  'Then I must leave you here while I go out and get you lodgings for the present,' Ronald said, quietly; 'you won't object to my doing that, of course: you can easily pay me back from your salary as soon as we succeed in finding you some suitable occupation. Let me see, where can I put you for the next fortnight? Naturally you wouldn't like to live with religious people, would you?'

  'I hate them,' Selah answered vigorously.

  'Of course, of course,' Ronald went on, as if to himself. 'Perfectly natural. She hates them! So should I if I'd been bothered and worried out of my life by them in the way she has. I hate them myself——that kind: or, rather, it's wrong to say that of them, poor creatures, for they mean well, they really mean well at bottom, in their blundering, formal, pettifogging way. They think they can take the kingdom of Heaven, not by storm, but by petty compliances, like servile servants who have to deal with a capricious, exacting master. Poor souls, they know no better. They measure the universe by the reflection in their muddy mill-pond. Nasty pious people is what I always call them; nasty pious people: little narrow souls, trying hard to be Christians after their lights, and only attaining, after all, to a sort of second-hand diluted Judaism, a religion of cup-washing, and phylacteries, and new moons, and sabbaths, and daily sacrifices. However, that's neither here nor there. I won't hand you over, Miss Briggs, to any of those poor benighted people. No, nor to any religious people at all. It wouldn't suit you: you want to be well out of it. I know the very place for you. There are the Baumanns: they'd be glad to let a room: Baumann's a German refugee, and a friend of Ernest's: a good man, but a secularist. They wouldn't bother you with any religion: poor things, they haven't got any. Mrs. Baumann's an excellent woman——educated, too; no objection at all in any way to the Baumanns. They're people I like and respect immensely——every good quality they have; and I'm often grieved to think such excellent people should be deprived of the comfort and pleasure of believing. But, then, so's my dear brother Ernest; and you know, they're none the worse for it, apparently, any of them: indeed, I don't know that there's anybody with whom I can talk more sympathetically on spiritual matters than dear Ernest. Depend upon it, most of the most spiritually-minded people nowadays are outside all the churches altogether.'

  Selah listened in blank amazement to this singular avowal of heterodox opinion from an obviously religious person. What Ronald Le Breton could be she couldn't imagine; and she thought with an inward smile of the very different way in which her friends at Hastings would have discussed the spiritual character of a wicked secularist.

  Just at that moment a latch-key turned lightly in the street door, and two sets of footsteps came down the passage to Lady Le Breton's little back breakfast-room. One set turned up the staircase, the other halted for a second at the breakfast-room doorway. Then the door opened gently, and Herbert Le Breton and Selah Briggs stood face to face again in blank astonishment.

  There was a moment's pause, as Selah rose with burning cheeks from the chair where she was sitting; and neither spoke a word as they looked with eyes of mutual suspicion and dislike into each other's faces. At last Herbert Le Breton turned with some acerbity to his brother Ronald, and asked in a voice of affected contempt, 'Who is this woman?'

  'This lady's name is Miss Briggs,' Ronald answered, pointedly, but, of course, quite innocently.

  'I needn't ask you who this man is,' Selah said, with bitter emphasis. 'It's Herbert Walters.'

  A horrible light burst in upon Ronald instantaneously as she uttered the name; but he could not believe it; he would not believe it: it was too terrible, too incredible. 'No, no,' he said falteringly, turning to Selah; 'you must be mistaken. This is not Mr. Walters. This is my brother, Herbert Le Breton.'

  Selah gazed into Herbert's slinking eyes with a concentrated expression of scorn and disgust. 'Then he gave me a false name,' she said, slowly, fronting him like a tigress. 'He gave me a false name, it seems, from the very beginning. All through, the false wretch, all through, he actually meant to deceive me. He laid his vile scheme for it beforehand. I never wish to see you again, you miserable cur, Herbert Le Breton, if that's your real name at last. I never wish to see you again: but I'm glad I've done it now by accident, if it were only to inflict upon you the humiliation of knowing that I have measured the utmost depth of your infamy! You mean, common, false scoundrel, I have measured to the bottom the depth of your infamy!'

  'Oh, don't,' Ronald said imploringly, laying his hand upon her arm. 'He deserves it, no doubt; but don't glory over his humiliation.' He had no need to ask whether she spoke the truth; his brother's livid and scarlet face was evidence enough against him.

  Herbert, however, answered nothing. He merely turned angrily to Ronald. 'I won't bandy words,' he said constrainedly in his coldest tone, 'with this infamous woman whom you have brought here on purpose to insult me; but I must request you to ask her to leave the house immediately. Your mother's home is no place to which to bring people of such a character.'

  As he spoke, the door opened again, and Lady Le Breton, attracted by the sound of angry voices, entered unexpectedly. 'What does all this riot mean, Herbert?' she asked, imperiously. 'Who on earth is this young woman that Ronald has brought into my own house, actually without my permission?'

  Herbert whispered a few words quietly into her ear, and then left the room hurriedly with a stiff and formal bow to his brother Ronald. Lady Le Breton turned round to the culprit severely.

  'Disgraceful, Ronald!' she cried in her sternest and most angry voice; 'perfectly disgraceful! You aid and abet this wretched creature——whose object is only to extort money by false pretences out of your brother Herbert——you aid and abet her in her abominable stratagems, and you even venture to introduce her clandestinely into my own breakfast-room. I wonder you're not ashamed of yourself. What on earth can you mean by such extraordinary, such unChristian conduct? Go to your own room this moment, sir, and ask this young woman to leave the house immediately.'

  'I shall go without being asked,' Selah said, proudly, her big eyes flashing defiance haughtily into Lady Le Breton's. 'I don't know who you all may be, or what this gentleman who brought me here may have to do with you: but if you are in any way connected with that wretch Herbert Le Breton, who called himself Herbert Walters for the sake of deceiving me, I don't want to have anything further to say to any of the whole pack of you. Please stand out of my way,' she went on to Ronald, 'and I shall have done with you all together this very instant. I wish to God I had never seen a single one of you.'

  'No, no, not just yet, please,' Ronald put in hastily. 'You mustn't go just yet, I implore you, I beg of you, till I have explained to my mother, before you, how this all happened; and then, when you go, I shall go with you. Though I have the misfortune to be the brother of the man who gave you a false name in order to deceive you, I trust you will still allow me to help you as far as I am able, and to take you to my German friends of whom I spoke to you.'

  'Ronald,' Lady Le Breton cried, in her most commanding tone, 'you must have taken leave of your senses. How dare you keep this person a moment longer in my house against my wish, when even she herself is anxious to quit it? Let her go at once, let her go at once, sir.'

  'No, mother,' Ronald answered firmly. 'We are commanded in the Word to obey our parents in all things, "in the Lord." I think you've forgotten that proviso, mother, "in the Lord." Now, mother, I will tell you all about it.' And then, in a rapid sketch, Ronald, with his back planted solidly against the door, told his mother briefly all he knew about Selah Briggs, how he had found her, how he had brought her home not knowing who she was, and how she had recognised Herbert as her unfaithful lover. Lady Le Breton, when she saw that escape was practically impossible, flung herself back in an easy-chair, where she swayed herself backward and forward gently all the while, without once lifting her eyes towards Ronald, and sighed impatiently from time to time audibly, as if the story merely bored her. As for poor Selah, she stood upright in front of Ronald without a word, looking neither to the right nor to the left, and waiting eagerly for the story to be finished.

  When Ronald had said his say, Lady Le Breton looked up at last and said simply, with a pretended yawn, 'Now, Ronald, will you go to your own room?'

  'I will not,' Ronald answered, in a soft whisper. 'I will go with this lady to the rooms of which I have spoken to her.'

  'Then,' Lady Le Breton said coldly, 'you shall not return here. It seems I'm to lose all my children, one after another, by their extraordinary rebelliousness!'

  'By your own act——yes,' Ronald answered, very calmly. 'You forgot that last Thursday was my birthday, I daresay, mother; but I didn't forget it; it was; and I came of age then. I'm my own master now. I've stopped here as long as I could, mother, because of the commandment: but I can't stop here any longer. I shall go to Ernest's for to-night as soon as I've got rooms for this lady.'

  'Good evening,' Lady Le Breton said, bowing frigidly, without another word.

  'Good evening, mother,' Ronald replied, in his natural voice. 'Miss Briggs, will you come with me? I'm very sorry that this unhappy scene should have been inflicted upon you against my will; but I hope and pray that you won't have lost all confidence in my wish to help you, in spite of these unfortunate accidents.'

  Selah followed him blindly, in a dazzled fashion, out on to the flagstones of Epsilon Terrace.

  'Dear me, dear me,' moaned Lady Le Breton, sinking back vacantly once more, with an air of resignation after her efforts, into the easy-chair: 'was there ever a mother so plagued and burdened with unnatural and undutiful sons as I am? If it weren't for dear Herbert, I'm sure I don't know what I should ever do between them. Ronald, too, who always pretended to be so very, very religious! To think that he should go and uphold the word of a miserable, abandoned, improper adventuress against his own brother Herbert! Atrocious, perfectly atrocious! Where on earth he can have picked up such a woman I'm positively at a loss to imagine. But it's exactly like his poor dear father: I remember once when we were stationed at Moozuffernugger, in the North-West Provinces, with the 14th Bengal, poor Owen absolutely insisted on taking up the case of some Eurasian waman, who pretended she'd been badly treated by young Walker of our regiment! I call it quite improper——almost unseemly——to meddle in the affairs of such people. I daresay Herbert has had something or other to say to this horrid girl; young men will be young men, and in the army we know how to make allowances for that sort of thing: but that Ronald should positively think of bringing such a person into my breakfast-room is not to be heard of. Ronald's a pure Le Breton——that's undeniable, thank goodness; not a single one of the good Whitaker points to be found in all his nature. However, poor dear Sir Owen, in spite of all his nonsense, was at least an officer and a gentleman; whereas the nonsense these boys have picked up at Oxford and among their German refugee people is both irreligious, and, I may even say, indecent, or, to put it in the mildest way, indecorous. I wish with all my heart I'd never sent them to Oxford. I've always thought that if only Ernest had gone in for a direct commission, he'd soon have got all that absurd revolutionary rubbish knocked out of him in a mess-room! But it's a great comfort to me to think I have one real blessing in dear Herbert, who's just such a son as any mother might well be thoroughly proud of in every way!'

  While Lady Le Breton was thus communing with herself in the breakfast-room, and while Herbert was trying to patch up a hollow truce with his own much-bruised self-respect in his own bedroom, Ronald was taking poor dazed and wearied Selah round to the refuge of the Baumanns' hospitable roof. As soon as that matter was temporarily arranged to the mutual satisfaction of all the parties concerned, Ronald walked over alone to Ernest's little lodgings at Holloway. He would sleep there that night, and send round a letter to Amelia, the housemaid, in the morning, asking her to pack up his things and forward them at once to Mrs. Halliss's. For himself, he did not propose, unless circumstances compelled it, again to enter his mother's rooms, except by her own express invitation. After all, he thought, even his little income, if clubbed with Edie and Ernest's, would probably help them all to live now in tolerable comfort.

  So he told Edie all his story, and Edie listened to it with an approving smile. 'I think, dear Ronald,' she said, taking his hand in hers, 'you did quite right——quite as Ernest himself would have done under the circumstances.'

  'Where's Ernest?' asked Ronald, half smiling at that naive wifely standard of right conduct.

  'Gone with Mr. Berkeley to the trial,' Edie answered.

  'The trial! What trial?'

  'Oh, don't you know? Herr Max's. They're trying him to-day for littering a seditious libel and inciting to murder the chief of the Third Section at St. Petersburg.'

  'But he said nothing at all,' Ronald cried in astonishment. 'I read the article myself. He said nothing that any Englishman mightn't have said under the same circumstances. Why, I could have written the libel, as they call it, myself, even, and I'm not much of a politician either! They can't ever be trying him in a country like England for anything so ridiculously little as that!'

  'But they are,' Edie answered quietly; 'and dear Ernest's dreadfully afraid the verdict will go against him.'

  'Nonsense,' Ronald answered with natural confidence. 'No English jury would ever convict a man for speaking up like that against an odious and abominable tyranny.'

  Very late in the afternoon, Ernest and Berkeley returned to the lodgings. Ernest's face was white with excitement, and his lips were trembling violently with suppressed emotion. His eyes were red and swollen. Edie hardly needed to ask in a breathless whisper of Arthur Berkeley, 'What verdict?'

  'Guilty,' Arthur Berkeley answered with a look of unfeigned horror and indignation. He had learnt by this time quite to take the communistic view of such questions.

  'Guilty,' Ronald cried, jumping up from his chair in astonishment. 'Impossible! And what sentence?'

  'Twelve months' hard labour,' Berkeley answered, slowly and remorsefully.

  'An atrocious sentence!' Ronald exclaimed, turning red with excitement. 'An abominable sentence! A most malignant and vindictive sentence! Who was the judge, Arthur?'

  'Bassenthwaite,' Berkeley replied half under his breath.

  'And may the Lord have mercy upon his soul!' said Ronald solemnly,

  But Ernest never said a single word. He only sat down and ate his supper in silence, like one stunned and dazzled. He didn't even notice Ronald's coming. And Edie knew by his quick breath and his face alternately flushed and pallid that there would be another crisis in his gathering complaint before the next morning.

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